WMM Sundance Diaries 2016 (Part 2)

Your guide on where to go, what to see, and how to get the most out of your Sundance/Slamdance experience.

Planning Ahead
Amanda Lippert

Before embarking on any adventure, it’s important to set priorities. Our mission for the journey to Park City was to see as many movies as possible, and to ENJOY ourselves. Although I’d normally recommend planning your Sundance/Slamdance trip between September and November, we made the most out of the few weeks of planning we had.

Our first obstacle was lodging – the most affordable lodging near Main Street (the hotbed of activity) had been booked months ago, and we were on an indie filmmaker’s budget (read: broke as a joke). I had remembered a couple of years ago, my friend (and fellow WMMer) David Beatty had told me about a really nice and affordable motel a couple towns over. I Google mapped The Swiss Alps Inn, which was only 17 minutes by car from Main Street, which seemed convenient enough, considering any lodging near Main Street would still probably be 15-20 minutes walking distance. Also, we planned the trip during the week, rather than the weekend. Hotels are usually cheaper Monday – Thursday, and going on weekdays allowed us to get better tickets to screenings that would have otherwise sold out on the busy weekends.

Another way we saved money was by driving Lin and Michaelangelo’s hybrid, which takes very little fuel. The Prius c is a small car and doesn’t go very fast up hills (or mountains), but was just the right size for three people with three days of luggage, and was really easy to park in tight spots. We found free street parking all three days, and were completely saved from the hassle of waiting in the cold to take the crowded free shuttles from theater to theater.

For Sundance tickets, it seemed like there are waves of availability, so it’s good to really dig around and read on the website. By the time we started planning the trip, season passes and pre-sale individual tickets had sold out. But January 19th, they were announcing new screening times, and we were able to purchase tickets online. By the next day, most of those tickets were also sold out. Tickets can also be purchased during the festival, in person, at the Sundance Box Office, but availability is extremely limited and are usually sold out on the most popular screenings.

Not including food, our 3 ½ day trip cost each of us a total of $30 per person per night for hotel, $20 per Sundance ticket, $13 per Slamdance ticket, and about $40 per person for transportation (gasoline, round trip). A little over $250/person total.

For me, going to this festival has been a tremendous value in the relationships I’ve built, the inspiration sparked from watching the films, and the information learned from the panels and talk backs. When you consider what a typical vacation costs, and what you could get out of this as a filmmaker, it’s hard to find an excuse NOT to go.

Tomorrow I’ll cover our full itinerary, and secrets on how to network and get into the best parties. Follow us on Instagram and the WeMakeMovies blog to get the latest Sundance survival tips and read reviews of all the films we’re seeing.

Reviews:

FURSONAS (80 min)
SLAMDANCE
Amanda Lippert

FURSONAS, a documentary by Dominic Rodriguez, takes you down a rabbit hole into the strange world of furry fandom. “Furries” identify themselves as people who like to dress in costumes to live out the fantasy of being a cartoon animal, each with distinct personalities and characteristics. Most avid furries spend a lot of money on expensive custom made costumes, and consider their choices a lifestyle rather than a hobby. The rise of the internet has allowed furries to find each other and form a community in private online chat forums and monthly conventions with parades, dance contests and panels.

The movie takes place over a period of five years and follows the increasing political tensions that develop within the community as they attempt to protect themselves from the scrutiny of the media. The entire movie was fascinating and weird, as an insight into a world most know very little about. What I found most fascinating was the transformation of the community as it grew. It started as a loose group of social outsiders who had found a home in each other, but as time went on, it began to take on similarities to a religious cult.

Overall, an interesting movie with interesting characters, that opened many cans of worms in after-movie conversation.

Anarchy Shorts Series (100 min)
SLAMDANCE
Michaelangelo DeSerio

There isn’t a universal set of etiquette rules for viewing a screening at Slamdance, outside the central one of not being rude, inconsiderate or loud while the movie is playing. Post screening, some audiences are in a warm lull of complacency, others almost childishly curious, while still others can be charged and deeply polarized due to the nature of the topics covered. Still, others simply sweep you up in their energy and carry you along to the end of the line. You never know what you are temporarily being incorporated into as a viewer, and the festival can always bare pleasant surprises for those willing to venture into an unknown screening.

Anarchy has been given many definitions, some factual and others, not so much. Often the title has a negative connotation, but at its heart, anarchy is not a bad word. Its primary and simplified definition is simply the absence of government. The absence of rules, or as many see it: boundaries.

Anarchy at its core is the of complete and total freedom for the individual, and when applied to the creation of art, transforms the word into the dream that we all have as children. The dream to create something, not because we know we can get a grant for it, or we need to build up a reel, or even something as banal as financial security, but to make it simply because we have to… because we yearn to… because we are free to. It is this definition of anarchy I think that the curators of the Slamdance Anarchy Shorts Series take to heart in their mission. The question is: do they accomplish this?

On the viewing buffet for the evening, was a wide array of films with no easily discernible thematic link to one another at first. The selections ranged from the sadly endearing HI, HOW ARE YOU, DANIEL JOHNSTON?, directed by Gabriel Sunday, to the visual splatter of the offsetting macabre featured in CARNAL ORIENT, directed by Mula Zuo, to traditionally-minded progressive sex-Ed animation, THE WAYWARD CARNLALITY, directed by Joanna Maria Wójcik.

One after another, the audience was saturated in a visual and emotional orgy of experience. Viewers were jostled and bombarded by the blaring industrial ritual of DOUBLE BLIND NO. 1, directed by The Double-Blind Experiments, only to be cut off and submerged in the ridiculously alien CEILING FINGER, a Sci-fi short directed by Sean Kelly only to shift the kaleidoscope wheel back to the disturbing with corners of the human psyche with both THE BULB, directed by Calvin Reeder, and DISCO INFERNO, directed by Alice Waddington. SOMETHING ABOUT SILENCE, directed by Patrick Buhr shifts the mood again, offering hypnotic suggestion to pull us away from the “most dreadful” of all conditions, boredom. The short series finishes with the amazing and equally parts revolting/compelling GWILLIAM, directed by Brian Lonand. The short might be one of the disturbing erotic horror films ever made, even including a complimentary souvenir barf bag underneath each seat in the house.

An intense night’s lineup to be sure, but do they as a whole live up to the title and mission of the series? Happily, I’m going with a yes. While superficially, there is no connection between any of these films, viewing them in succession, their link became more and more apparent with each succeeding presentation. They were all made by filmmakers who pursued these projects for their own sake, because these were topics and stories that they were passionate about. Instead of falling prey to the company machine, these were all projects generated in protective cocoons of the artists’ own making. They were each facets of the filmmakers dreams, and their unfettered passions. Each was fearless and free.

Score one for the mission statement, but that wasn’t the real victory of the series that night. Instead, as the last credits rolled and the house lights went up, the real impact became apparent to me as I looked around at my fellow moviegoers. It lay in the transfer of energy that had occurred between filmmakers and audience. I looked around to see faces a little brighter, more jovial and more engaged as I looked around. A growing glimmer in the eye, that indicated a realization that freedom of pursuit might not be too far away for any of us. Anarchy is not exclusive of community; it is in fact intrinsically dependent on it. It is dependent on not only understanding the importance of one’s own freedom, but realization of the importance of the freedom of all members of the community.

SOMETHING ABOUT SILENCE (12 mins)
SLAMDANCE
Lin Laurin

This poetic piece was screened about half the way into the Anarchy Shorts screening at Slamdance. I would describe it more like cinematic art than an experimental film. SOMETHING ABOUT SILENCE is directed by the German director Patrick Buhr, and Slamdance was its North American premier. A big part of this 12 minute short is filled with beautiful footage of a white scarf floating in space. This was mixed with colorful lights and patterns as well as many abstract representations of the scarf. Throughout the entire piece, a monologue is read by a smooth, hypnotic voice. The voice describes our boring lives filled with boring pigeons, an injured pigeon, fashion, a boring judgmental wife, lots animals being bored by each other and of course more boring pigeons…

I don’t think this piece is supposed to be fully explained or even fully understood, but instead meant to be experienced. It’s both, a surrealistic and psychedelic auto-visional experience that just allows you to exist and float within. I think this is the most experimental film I’ve ever seen at a film festival, and it was very liberating to watch something so abstract on the big screen. This extremely unique project made me feel so peaceful and alive, and it’s also surprisingly funny. If you happen to run into this film at another festival or online, I highly recommend watching it. I think Buhr and his crew did a great job and I hope that more festivals will be open to screening truly experimental film.

Shorts Program 4 (100 min)
SUNDANCE
Lin Laurin

This short film block was very exciting to watch. I loved a handful of films, enjoyed most of them and got bored with a couple. One of the highlights was EDMOND, an animated story by Nina Gantz. This was a colorful, almost childlike adventure about a man whose impulse to love and be close to others was simply too strong. My favorite narrative short in the series was without a doubt PEACOCK by Ondrej Hudecek, a gorgeous piece set in the 19th century about one of Czech Republic’s most influential writers. Another film worth mentioning is TOO LEGIT by Frankie Shaw, a colorful feminist satire about rape culture starring Zoë Kravitz.